The Opposite of Fear
There’s a saying that some claim is an ancient Chinese curse (it isn’t) that goes; “May you live in interesting times.” We might argue over where that line came from but we can all agree that interesting times are definitely here. Some of what makes right now so interesting is minor and amusing. I’ve personally found interesting watching news anchors and celebrities without teams of makeup artists and hair stylists revert to a wilder state of shagginess in much the same way escaped domesticated pigs begin to grow tusks and coarser bristles as soon as they break out of the farm. I find it interesting that so many of us have adopted a new double-standard of personal hygiene where we treat our hands like surgeons but the rest of our self-quarantined bodies like pioneers. But what is most interesting is the way that ordinary people have stepped up to do such extraordinary things like nurses and doctors and healthcare workers who go out there every day risking their lives to help others.
We’ve seen this before. The greatest Generation was made up of depression-era kids who went off to save the world during the deadliest war in history and then came home to build the American middle class. The civil rights movement arose in the south against the backdrop of Jim Crow laws that were enforced with deadly violence. The first responders on 9/11 ran into the towers while others were running out. Those were all interesting times. And each time, ordinary people stepped up to the challenge and, through heroic self-sacrifice, rose to the occasion.
I often tell the story of my father-in-law who was a sergeant in WWII and was awarded a bronze star and a purple heart. I asked him once how he ever found the courage to advance toward the danger. His answer had nothing to do with bravery but his sense of concern for his buddies and those he led in his squad. In other words, his courage was just an expression of his commitment to and affection for others.
In these new interesting times, a virus has killed more Americans in three months than we lost in Vietnam in over a decade and yet ordinary nurses and doctors and hospital workers walk into the danger daily, putting their own lives on the line to save the lives of strangers.
If you think it’s bravery, you’re right. But it begs the question, what is bravery? You might think it’s something only some people have and that would also be right, but not for the reason you might think. Courage is the ability to overcome fear but courage isn’t its opposite. The opposite of fear isn’t bravery. It’s love. As it says in 1 John 4:18, “Perfect love casts out all fear.”
Those nurses and doctors who wade into the danger aren’t that different from the firefighters who ran into the crumbling towers or the civil rights marchers when they walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge or my own father-in-law when he crawled out of his foxhole at the battle of Monte Cassino. None of them were thinking about how brave they were. They weren’t thinking about themselves at all. They were thinking of others and that love overruled their fear and drove them in the direction of the fires or the bullets, or the beatings or this virus to risk literally everything.
During interesting times like these, the most ordinary people do the most extraordinary things.
Some call it courage but that’s really just another word for love.